Want to be successful? Here are the ten habits of successful people. Every single day I see new lists, written by “experts,” on what successful people have done to get there. What do these people have in common? Not much.
I’ve been reading Autobiography of a Yogi, the book that inspired the late Steve Jobs and was handed out at his funeral. Truth be told, it’s not doing much for me, but it worked for him.
My point is that we’re obsessed with what has made others successful. Imitating them will only lead to mediocrity. The reason they were successful is because they knew what worked for them, not you. Maybe they didn’t even know what worked for them, but the combination of their habits and the right circumstances allowed them to succeed. If you do everything that Steve Jobs did, you’ll probably fail. If you try to do everything that Bill Gates has done in his life, step by step, you probably won’t be the next Bill Gates. Want to be the President one day? Do everything that Barack Obama did and let me know when you get there.
If Haruki Murakami hadn’t grown up in a post-Word War II Japan, maybe he wouldn’t have rejected the literary community there and been so influenced by American and classic European novelists. Sam Anderson, who had the rare pleasure of interviewing the media-shy Murakami in 2011, said that the author was trying to escape “the curse of Japanese” in his youth. In fact, when he wrote his first novel, he began it in English then translated it into Japanese. You’ll never grow up in a post-World War II Japan. Maybe Alyosha wouldn’t have been so wise if Fyodor Dostoyevsky hadn’t had a rough childhood. “People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education,” he said. In Renegade, Jay-Z claimed his childhood “didn’t mean much.”
Experiences influence actions and you can’t have someone else’s experiences. It’s not wrong to study great leaders and thinkers, but it can be misleading. I think these lists are misleading. They’re attempting to connect dots where dots can’t be connected.
The “best advice” successful people give is often contradictory. So are their habits. According to an October New Yorker interview, Twitter cofounder and billionaire Jack Dorsey is on the Paleo diet, which forbids refined sugar and grains. Some view it as a step down from the Vegan diet he was previously on. Meanwhile, Warren Buffet’s love of Cherry Coke and hamburgers is no secret. In a CNBC interview several years ago, Buffet said his doctor gave him two choices: “Either you eat better or you exercise.” Buffett says he chose exercise, the “lesser of two evils.”
I’ve only provided a few examples, but there really aren’t as many similarities between successful people as we’d like to imagine, as much as we try to find them. If there is one loose similarity, it may be what Donny Deutsch pointed out on The History Channel’s best work, The Men Who Built America. Here’s what he said: “Every great business leader I’ve ever met, in addition to being very smart, very driven, they have this, ‘Why not me? Screw it, I deserve it, let’s go.’ And if you don’t have that, you can’t achieve greatness.”